The Gordon Mines
History of Gordon's Coal Mining, the First Major Coal Mine in Texas
In the late 1870's coal outcroppings were discovered northeast of present day Gordon by Texas & Pacific Railway (T&P Railway) surveyors. This major discovery was noted at the time as the first viable coal vein found in Texas. Being that coal was the fuel of choice for railroad, and that up to this time it had to be shipped from up north, having a local source of fuel was a major attraction. This discovery and a more level grade for the rails, were the chief reasons the T&P Railway line came through southern Palo Pinto County instead of the earlier planned northern route through the town of Palo Pinto.
T&P Railway's bridge building firm was the Jones, Cowan and Knowlton Company. This firm surveyed, designed and constructed railroad trestles and bridges from Weatherford to El Paso. They purchased the area to be known as The Gordon Mines by the early fall of 1880. In September of that year, as the rails had reached the newly plotted town of Gordon, the firm also opened their first drift mine on their newly acquired property.
In the first two years of operation, the Gordon Mines experienced a significant boom in population attracting miners from the northeast and other countries. The most prominent nationalities represented were Welch, Irish, and Scandinavian. A school was opened and various businesses sprang up, including several saloons. The saloons aided the towns reputation for being a wild and wooly place where brawls were common, sometimes resulting in deaths. During this time coal was mined and loaded on to wagons and taken into Gordon where special platforms were created for loading coal could on to trains.
T&P Railway was so pleased with the production at the Gordon Mines that they laid their first spur which ran three miles off the main track up to the mines. That same year the Knights of Labor established their first union in Texas at the Gordon Mines. It has been noted as the first organization of miners in the state.
In 1884 T&P Railway purchased the mines from their original owners and the press dubbed the new asset the "Jay Gould Mines" as the prominent Jay Gould, who ran T&P along with several other railroads in the US, personally wanted to experiment with owning the mines that were by this time supplying all of the fuel for his T&P line. This would prove to be a somewhat failed episode in his career.
The year 1884 was the zenith for the mines and yet it was the beginning of the end. The mining town included well over 1200 inhabitants, recently opened post office and other local businesses, and the coal was being mined more rapidly than ever before, but a few factors started to weigh on its production. A couple of the main factors included an issue getting water to the mines, as it was important to the process, and the quality of the coal produced was off and on plagued with too high of a sulfur content. This sulfur issue began to cause complaints from engineers on the line as it caused engine issues.
A near fatal blow to the Gordon Mines came in April of 1884 when 450 of its miners struck for higher wages. The mines would continue to operate with a skeleton crew for the next year until they were fully opened back up in the spring of 1885. Prior to the reopening, the Gordon Mines were renamed from Hoxie (as it had been known for a few months) to the more descriptive name of Coalville. This was in part to attract new miners willing to work for lesser pay.
Coalville was a noteworthy source of coal in national terms. Coal samples were taken by Thomas Forster from the mines and were sent to the U.S. National Museum, later known as the Smithsonian.
The new resurgence in mining continued until March 4, 1886, when the miners once again struck for higher pay. This time T&P Railway elected to cease operations as they were just out of their element and deemed the Jay Gould experiment a failed attempt.
A week after closing the mines the Knights of Labor leased the mines and purchased all of T&P Railway's mining equipment. The Knights, however, lacked the funding to suitably get their endeavor very far. When the Johnson Mining Company opened their first mine three miles southwest of Gordon (later known as Thurber) the Johnsons were able to hire away Coalville's miners for less pay than they had struck for. This was the death knell for major coal mining operations at Coalville.
By March of 1887, while a community still existed at Coalville, the local post office closed and the area was absorbed by Gordon. The Coalville School continued to serve its local children until 1925. T&P Railway continued to own the property until 1914 and remained open to leasing operations until the land was sold.
Some of the names associated with the Gordon Mines/ Coalville include:
Martin Lodal - Denmark Native who came to Coalville in 1881
Thomas Dyer - Coal Weigher and later opereated a large mercantile store in Gordon
Alex Laster - Coal Dumper
Jeff Speer - Car Greaser
Charlie Finnigan - Mine Supt
Frank Speer - Water Hauler
Jim Speer and W.A. Hammons - Stable Operators
Boss Stephens - Boarding House
Jerry Manney - first man to put a pick in the ground for the old No. 1 Mine
Other Miners - W.W. James, Gomer Gower, Ab Carson
Preachers - Rev Wycoff, Preacher Havens, Harrison McQueary (preached at 17 years old in coalville)
School Teachers - John Maddox, Arthur Speer, Mollie Smith